WHDH shakes up Boston market

Aug 13, 2001  •  Post A Comment

When Sunbeam Television bought Boston’s NBC affiliate WHDH-TV in 1993 and introduced flashy graphics and fast-paced news coverage, it changed the landscape of local news in the city.
But now, for the first time in what is historically a stable news market with viewers loyal to its longtime anchors, Boston is ushering in a new era with a new generation of anchors at the three major stations.
WHDH is also undergoing its own new beginning with the recent announcement of Caterina Bandini as main co-anchor with Randy Price for the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news, coupled with new news director Ed Kosowski. Ms. Bandini replaced Kim Carrigan, whose contract was not renewed.
ABC affiliate WCVB-TV used to have the dominant anchor team, the former husband-and-wife duo of Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson, but the marriage broke up last year-and so did the on-air partnership, with Mr. Curtis moving to New England Cable News.
And CBS-owned WBZ-TV’s longtime anchor Liz Walker left the evening newscasts last year to spend more time with her family.
WHDH often wins the morning news race over its rival WCVB and is usually No. 1 at 11 p.m. But with all the recent shifts at stations, news executives now see a level playing field in the market for the first time in recent memory.
For WHDH it’s an opportunity to gain viewers.
“In a little over a year, all the anchor pairings in this market have changed … for a market this big to have all three of its primary stations-NBC, CBS and ABC-[change anchors], it usually doesn’t happen in a period of time that short,” said WHDH General Manager Mike Carson, who has been at the station since 1993.
Before stepping into WHDH’s main anchor chair, Ms. Bandini had been a reporter at the station since 1995 and later a weekend anchor. “We’ve sent her to Kosovo twice in the last couple of years because she’s just such a sound reporter, and when I interviewed her for this job, she made sure she could still do some reporting,” Mr. Carson said. “She’s only been an anchor for a couple weeks, and she’s already had an exclusive one-on-one interview with Lt. Gov. Jane Swift, who recently had twins.”
Sunbeam owner Ed Ansin is confident WHDH will continue to lead the market with its innovative approach to news, as it did in the 1990s. “We consider news critical to our business. We really think that’s the essence of what we do,” Mr. Ansin said. “We feel the need to continue to expand, innovate and move forward to strengthen our news franchise in Boston. In 1993, everybody in Boston was doing news the same way, which was a 1970s style. When we came in, everybody was shocked and didn’t think you could do news a different way.”
At a time when stations are cutting back on news, WHDH will launch a 4:30 p.m. newscast Sept. 3, in place of “Extra” which is moving to 7:30 p.m. WHDH, which already has a 4 p.m. newscast, will be the first station in the market to have news for the entire 4 p.m. hour. It will also be the only station in the market to have local news from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Mr. Ansin said the station prides itself on staying fresh-which means continuing to take risks as WHDH has in the past. When WHDH hired Mr. Price, who is openly gay, he was out of work. He had been an anchor at competitor WBZ, but that station did not renew his contract about six years ago after he was arrested twice for driving under the influence.
“We didn’t make him a main anchor the next day,” Mr. Ansin said. “We worked him into the morning news and made sure the situation was stable. By the time we made him the main anchor, we were sure of the situation. He’s totally on the wagon.”
Mr. Ansin thinks the 4 p.m. news block will cater to the high-paced lifestyle of many viewers. “In any market, particularly a big market like Boston, you have people coming home continuously in the afternoon. People have different [TV] habits.”
Mr. Carson said a few people will be hired to staff the 4:30 p.m. newscast. Speculation is that weekend morning anchor Amy Johnson and Chris May, who anchors the 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. news, will anchor the new 4:30 p.m. newscast. He said the half-hour 4:30 p.m. show will be “highly feature-oriented,” with ample health and consumer news. Mr. Carson said the station will continue to fine-tune its trademark production values.
“We’re constantly tweaking the graphics, making sure they stay contemporary and fresh,” Mr. Carson said. “With a new anchor team, unofficially, September kicks off the new season both locally and nationally, so we want a fresh look-nothing radical, just freshening up.”
Mr. Kosowski, who left ABC-owned KGO-TV, San Francisco, to become WHDH’s news director, will continue the station’s vision of being Boston’s “news station.” In 1993, former WHDH Vice President Joel Cheatwood began the concept, which included creating various segments such as breaking news and consumer, sports and entertainment news, with each segment separated by bold graphics, and sending reporters to other parts of the country to cover news. Mr. Kosowski’s aim is to make WHDH No. 1 in the early evening newscasts, a spot WCVB usually holds.
Already Mr. Kosowski said the Boston news war is different from San Francisco. “It’s much more dynamic than the San Francisco market,” Mr. Kosowski said. “It’s faster paced, and the audience here has more of an appetite for news than the San Francisco audience. The HUT levels in Sa Francisco are among the lowest in the country.”